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Your vacation rental is more than a lifestyle, it’s a business; and home-sharing sites, like Airbnb and HomeAway, are also more than just platforms, they’re businesses, as well. As such, vacation rental sites are out to ensure guests have a great experience and their search engine algorithms can make or break your success as a host. Understanding and utilizing these search algorithms will optimize your listing to increase visibility and drive up booking rates. Based on a recent webinar hosted by Pillow’s Charlie Ryan, here are six ways to improve your vacation rental search rankings on Airbnb and HomeAway.

1. Use Great Photos to Increase Your CTR (click-through rate)

When a travelers’ search yields a myriad of options, how do you ensure they click on your listing? Your thumbnail photo (which should be your best photo), will be the largest determining factor on whether a potential guest will click-through to your property listing. Getting a guest to click-through, however, is much more significant than that single potential booking. Your higher click-through rate will tell Airbnb that travelers like your property and they’ll reward you for it. Listings with higher click-through rates are catapulted to the top of the platform’s search results list by the algorithm, exposing your property to more potential guests.

Remember, booking platforms will do everything they can to ensure a traveler not only becomes a guest but also becomes a guest who had a great stay and therefore becomes a repeat customer.

Once the traveler has clicked-through to your full listing they’re likely to immediately head for the remainder of your photos. Which is why you’ve read so many articles about the importance of having quality images. You might think of yourself as the next Annie Leibovitz, but sometimes it’s best to leave photography to the professionals.

Airbnb offers free photography for hosts and brands like TaskRabbit let you source freelance photographers in your local area. HomeAway suggests using 24 photos (the maximum you can use on the platform), which also boosts your listing in their search result algorithms.

2. Fill Out Your Listing

A good listing description will increase your booking rates, especially if you utilize Instant Booking features. If your listing description is complete, you minimize the need for a potential guest to reach out to you and maximize the chances that they’ll have all the information they need and instantly book your property. With search algorithms, the higher your conversion rate (percentage of those who click-through and actually book your property), the higher your property ranks in the search result pages. An excellent conversion rate articulates that guests like your listing and can easily book your property – an attribute that Airbnb and HomeAway highly pursue.

When creating your listing description, keep the following tips in mind.

Mention the design style of your property, what type of bed (and how many) you have, and your Wi-Fi speed. At Pillow, we’ve found the majority of questions come in about the actual sleeping surfaces and the availability of Wi-Fi. Using a service like Homestyler or RoomSketcher to display a floor plan map on your listing is also a perk that many guests appreciate.

3. Advertise Amenities

Guests often use filters when searching for rentals. Keeping your amenities list updated will make sure you’re not unnecessarily eliminated from a search query. In addition, highlighting amazing amenities will not only set you apart from your rivals but also validate your nightly rate.

As mentioned, Wi-Fi is the most desired amenity in vacation rentals, with 38 percent of guests listing it as their top property must-have. In Miami, a hot tub can add $81/night to a rental. Parking adds $15/night, and a pool in L.A. is worth $60/night. Guests need to understand the benefits of your property and reasoning behind your nightly rate. When they do, you’ll see an increase in booking rates and the platform algorithms will also take notice, pushing your listing closer to the top.

4. Customize Your Calendar

Keep your calendar updated to clear up confusion and improve your search rankings. HomeAway states that more than 80 percent of inquiries come from dated searches, and the platform algorithms will de-prioritize listings when a calendar isn’t accurate. Moreover, your listing might be hidden from searches completely if your calendar isn’t updated at least once every 60 days.

But how is it signaled that your calendar is or isn’t updated? HomeAway uses booking inquiry data to determine how many requests are turning into bookings on your calendar. If the percentage is low, it thinks you’re constantly rejecting inquiries due to an outdated calendar. One tip that HomeAway suggests – if you use online booking (not the same as instant booking), your calendar is always considered up-to-date.

Instant book, however, is a key feature for both HomeAway and Airbnb platforms. Properties with Instant Book enabled are setup to be prioritized in search ranking results.

5. Improve Communication

Airbnb and HomeAway greatly take into account response times when determining search visibility. Replying to customers in a speedy time frame proves you’re a responsible host who can create a seamless booking experience for your guests and you’ll improve your search position. In addition, if you’ve optimized your listing with local information, directions to your property, and in-room amenities, you’ll find the number of people who contact you for more information will significantly drop. This way, there won’t be a backlog of customer queries to sift through, something that increases your response time and jeopardizes your search ranking.

6. Explore Host Features

Platform-specific features on Airbnb, like Superhost status, badges, and Business Travel Ready listings, match your profile with specific travelers and grow your search credentials. Say, for example, you’re a traveler who’s new to Airbnb. Your first search query will predominately yield hosts with Superhost badges. Airbnb’s algorithm is making sure, that based on the host’s previous record, the new traveler will have a great experience with Airbnb and continue to use the platform.

Over on HomeAway, paid subscriptions are the “most important factor you can control to influence your search position,” according to HomeAway. The company used to provide a three-tier subscription option, however, as of July 2016, there will be only one subscription option in addition to their pay-per-booking option. Properties that purchase the subscription are given a boost in the search ranking algorithms.

For both platforms, priority is placed on listings who can emphasize a desirable travel experience and ease of use – or “bookability” as HomeAway describes it.

These algorithms thrive on data. The more information provided by your listing, the more their search bots have to work with. Making sure your listing has everything it needs to provide an ideal booking experience guarantees you’ll receive a prime position on the search results page.

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